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Dry-Rot interview

Dry-Rot are a band that has intrigued me for quite some time. I first got in touch with them back in 2007 when their vocalist Drew Wardlaw sent an e-mail thanking me for playing their first self released 7” on WFMU. We traded off e-mails back and forth. Interviews were started, but were left to the wayside here and there. We finally nailed one down three years later with their guitarist Jordan Darby chiming in as well. Their first full length ‘Philistine’ has just been released on the Parts Unknown label and is a serious early contender for record of 2010…and that’s not just some easy rock writer lip flapping. It’s a challenging and disorienting listen that can reference Void, The Minutemen and This Heat as easily as I can scarf down a roasted chicken. For you industry types, check them out at SXSW. For people like me who like to stay home and pet the cat, just rock the record and feel cleansed. Interview done via electronic mail January 2010…

Tony Rettman: I guess give me a basic history of Dry-Rot

Jordan Darby: Dry-Rot came out of a few different bands that we, as a small group of friends, had been in and were trying to be in. Patrick (org. drums), Cameron (org. bass), Drew (vocal), and myself (Jordan, guitar) were all living in the beach resort town of Santa Barbara, about 30 minutes north of my native working class town of Ventura, California. Everyone was going to college at the time. I was away on a semester abroad in Europe when Patrick and Drew began forming the impetus of what was to be Dry-Rot. Let me back track a couple years prior — Pat played guitar and wrote all the music for the band he and I were in previously called Hit The Deck; he’s not naturally a drummer. I sang for that band and I distinctly remember having specific goals to accomplish in the ‘hardcore/punk’ scene or whatever you want to call it. It was a very idealistic time and was a formative band for Pat and I. We had both been in bands before that but Hit The Deck was the first band that we each took seriously. After a few years, it became more clear that my approach as a messenger needed a face-lift and I stopped giving the general public so much credence and credit for thinking on their own. It was frustrating trying to communicate ideas that I felt were important to share and address to a bunch of people that didn’t even care. Outside personal relationships I’d developed by going to shows, promoting shows, putting out records, etc, I just felt like I wanted to make them work for it a little harder.

It’s funny now, and my wife and I were reflecting on this yesterday, but really Hit The Deck was a grassroots local band, the complete opposite of Dry-Rot (a band I’d say is more of an “artistic statement” for lack of a better term). I get stopped on average at least once a month by people I don’t know that recognize me from shows back then; they say such nice things. It didn’t feel that welcoming at the time! But Hit The Deck is actually a bigger band in Ventura than Dry-Rot, even though Dry-Rot has gone on to do so much more and develop into a more ‘critically acclaimed’ band in just about every regard.

The point I’m making is this was the progression we were all going through…we didn’t wake up one day and decide we were going to be these “freaks”. As a group of people, we have remained the same, but the approach had to change or the formula would risk losing potency. It’s all about how you view your world.

Anyway, Drew sang for an awesome sloppy punk/thrash band called Blood Dumpster up in the San Luis Obispo area at the same time as Hit The Deck and that’s how we all met. He moved down and we all moved into Santa Barbara together. This was 2004-2005. It was a short time but a lot happened. We were really all that we had…we didn’t get along very well some of the time but everyone had excellent taste in the arts, and all things humor-related. These guys were all really funny and extremely creative and different. Originally the band was to be titled “GAK” and Pat was to play guitar and me bass. But when I got home from Europe and saw that nothing was happening with it, I changed everything and wrote what would be the first three songs off our first EP, Permission.

We drifted in and out with our relationship with Pat as a musician and initially we had another drummer, some kid from up north. That didn’t really work, we cut a quick demo and then started over and forced Pat to play drums. We recorded Permission with Brian Wallace, the tenor sax player for Sublime, because Drew knew him and assured us that he knew nothing about this style of music. It worked out perfectly because we wanted someone completely ignorant of the process. It was a mess. We tracked the whole session in a day, no overdubs except for two solos that I spent zero time on. We hadn’t really practiced for more than about a week prior. The B side was actually a jam that I made up on the spot and we just hit ‘record’…it was a rehearsal! We didn’t even know what was going on but hey it worked, I think.

TR: What were some of your first shows like?

Drew Wardlaw: On March 23, 2005, Dry-Rot played its first show in some barn or bedroom thing for someone’s birthday party. Cameron looked for a bathroom in the house, but found an old woman hooked up to an oxygen tank instead. We don’t complete a full song and break a PA system, a bass, and a drum set. The wiener drummer we had at the time quits the band because he’s too afraid and now has square dance parties in Nashville. Every member of the band bled somehow.

TR: What was your portal into the world of punk rock, hardcore…whatever you want to call it…

DW: I had to find out about punk and even just music in general on my own. My parents didn’t listen to any music and didn’t have any CDs…like they didn’t own a single one. They didn’t do anything creative actually. Except they made me play in the school band from 4th-7th grade. I wanted to do it, but they were the ones that brought up the idea. It was so stupid. I played the trombone, the dumbest of all instruments. I used to get made fun of so much walking around with that huge case. I had to walk home from school too, with that heavy case. The only time I heard music was at my friend Sean’s house. His dad would listen to classic rock records and he would quiz us on who the band was. His brother made me tapes of Pantera and stuff like that, and I liked the harder and faster music like that. Then in 7th grade, my friend’s older brother and I were talking about music or something and he decided to make me a couple tapes with punk on it. He gave me an FYP tape, a Propaghandi tape, an Angry Samoans tape, and a Youth of Today tape. You have to understand that there wasn’t any sort of scene or anything in my town, it was really small and rural. I just had to make do with whatever I could get my hands on or whatever people would give me, and I liked anything that was fast and mean sounding. That’s what got me about punk, is that it was really fast. It was faster and meaner sounding than even Pantera and the other heavy metal stuff I was listening to. It was kind of cool living in such a culturally isolated spot because I just had to discover things on my own and I had to make up my own mind about what was good and bad. Then as I got older I started meeting some people that knew more and all my opinions went out the window.

JD: I had three portals into the world of punk. The first, and possibly the most important, was my uncle Dave. He played in a great band called Blackworm that gigged with bands like The Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth. He showed me Flipper and Butthole Surfers when I was in grade school….this scared the hell from me & in retrospect was irresponsible of him. He would tell me about shows he would go to back in the day…he was THERE in LA when “it was all happening”. He brought me tapes he’d make of bands like Germs and The Ramones. That was my initial exposure but it was frightening; I knew that the music was special but it was too much to understand. The second, more direct influence was my brother. He’s not a punk and never was, but he had friends that were into death metal, punk etc and would pass stuff along to me. We sort of vibed for a few years there (he likes all styles of music so he didn’t get obsessed over punk like I did). He would take me to shows and I would be scared; we didn’t know anyone and it was all new. The third was a friend in high school who took the two prior influences and coalesced everything into something more tangible. His step-dad ran a screen printing business and would tell us about seeing Bad Brains in Santa Barbara, how the lights would be completely blacked out and they started with The Big Takeover — Suddenly a spotlight would shine on HR FLYING out into the crowd above the PA, singing every word perfectly. This all opened my eyes and I said “I want that”.

My parents are musicians. They were in bands and, above all, were music people. My dad knew Seymour Duncan, my mom was putting on folk rock concerts (she snuck on stage during sound check and played Willie Nelson’s guitar once!). These are my two biggest life influences, so they passed that gene down to me. They became Christians in the 1970s and that only served to intensify their musical leanings. People get down on Christianity, but when Christians or spiritual people in general are trying to communicate to God through music and they genuinely mean it and believe it, that can be the most powerful music experience that can be realized, in my opinion. They gave me a guitar and I instantly tried to be my dad…started garage bands left and right even before punk. I loved The Who, The Beatles, Randy Stonehill, Petra, etc. A strange mix never involving modern radio; our family wasn’t interested in the mainstream — it was boring to us.

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TR: Barring whatever ‘controversy’ Dry-Rot might have hung around it due to beliefs or whatever, what do you think lures people to your band? I don’t know if a question like that makes you feel self-conscious, but try to answer the best you can.

JD: People are looking for something different and that becomes a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there is a search borne out of real interest to find something authentic. On the other hand, it seems like almost a kind of addiction; the internet has totally zapped our attention spans so we are constantly into being ironic, one-upping those around us and finding the latest oddity. I think people seek Dry-Rot out for those two reasons, mainly. To 90% of the people who have bought the records, we are the flavor of the month; it will pass and we will fade from their memory. But to that 10%, I’d like to think they see something genuine and maybe a bit unique about our approach and attitude. Maybe not? It’s hard to gauge because I’m in the band.

I think, in spite of it all, the music is interesting, the thoughts are there and it’s been sweat over enough that people can tell. They want something interesting and they want curiosities like ours to observe.

TR: What was the deal with that tour you did in the summer of ’07? Word was you guys broke up in the middle of the tour

JD: Dry-Rot never broke up. That was fallacy that was mistakenly circulated, primarily through an interview we did with the most excellent ‘zine Herpes, out of Columbus, Ohio. I’m not really sure how it started, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was perpetuated by our cancellation of the tour mid-way through it & our unannounced hiatus –we lost our drummer and bassist. With the tour, a lot of stuff went on and we realized we simply couldn’t parade this music around and play it every day as if we would survive. So it came down to a choice – finish the tour and fake it or go home and recoup. People are always so surprised about it though, as if they didn’t expect to see a live representation of such music on record. We didn’t necessarily do anything ‘weird’ or ‘crazy’, but we made it a point to really FEEL the music live…so it could be pensive jamming one night, pouring bleach on Drew the next night. The point was, you never knew, and that mentality simply can’t survive on the road in a genuine way.

DW: On tour, it was basically Jordan and I against the drummer, bass player, and bass players wife. It was really awful and I regret that Jordan and I handled things the way we did. I can’t speak for Jordan, but for myself, I acted really immaturely and got much too involved in aspects of the band and forgot about the other human beings that were in the van with me. When the bass player’s wife decided to come, that immediately drew lines in the sand, because Jordan and I didn’t want her to go, and tried to explain why it wouldn’t be a good idea to the bass player, but it’s his wife, so how could he not get defensive about it, you know? And both sides got chips on the shoulders about the whole thing and that carried on throughout the whole tour. Plus, there was already some weird animosity between the drummer and I, which of course only got worse during the tour. Jordan and I were very condescending to the other guys and we would get mad when they wouldn’t play a song right or something, because we just needed something to hold on to. Well, again, I shouldn’t be speaking for Jordan, but that’s how it was for me. There was so much hostility between everyone that when we would play, it would all come out and it was all directed at me. I would get really hurt playing shows. I had really bad bruises on my legs and welts on my back from the drummer hitting me with his sticks really hard. Jordan broke a guitar on me. I was on the bass player’s shoulders and he started hitting me with the guitar because I threw it out of tune, and he broke it on me. It was too physically and mentally demanding for me and I had to stop.

Anyway, I’ve since apologized to them and we are all friends again, but I feel bad still. But the funny thing is, I think it had to happen that way. All the tension made for some really intense shows. We would play in front of no one, literally, and go wild on each other. It almost became secondary that we were playing music, we just wanted to hurt each other and we just happened to be playing music, and maybe some people were there.

TR: Who are the new members of Dry-Rot?

DW: Tony Cicero is our drummer, and Adam Jacino is the new bass player. Javier has been playing live drums for us lately though.

JD: Tony drummed on every Saccharine Trust album after Paganicons until the late ’90s.. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Paganicons’ (ST’s first 12”)  is one of my all-time favorites, but Tony’s drumming DESTROYS that first drummer. I loved the drum sound and style of all the subsequent albums, especially Surviving You, Always, my personal favorite. We kind of had met a few times over the years and our producer is good friends with him so we finally hooked up and he was into the idea; then we recorded and he was a bit let down over the final product. Oh well.

TR: I’d like to ask some questions about your Christian faith. How big of a role does it play in the band? For instance, would someone have to be of Christian faith to join the band? Sort of like…everyone in Youth of Today had to be Straight Edge to be in their band…

JD: I guess I feel like we’ve changed our approach, for the sake of art, not for the sake of acceptance. And in many ways, it’s more acceptable because it’s more subdued. I think people are going to respond better if you treat them like human beings with brains and not like animals that you are trying to train. We’re always talking about our faith, we’re just not always using words, you understand? I think it was St. Francis of Assisi that said to “preach the gospel at all times…use words if necessary”. To go a bit further, St. James described TRUE religion as caring for the orphan and the widow…that’s it. That’s as deep as the agenda gets, really. If people want to hate me for doing community work and volunteering at our church’s homeless center, so be it. I don’t have time to worry about people fretting over the possibility of us being Christians or not. They obviously haven’t explored the depths of human creativity. I guess I shouldn’t mention anybody from the long list of thinkers, scientists and artists that were/are Christian — it might ruin it for some people out there!!

I see the similarities between Straight Edge and Christianity in the sense that both are a lifestyle. Beyond that, however, I couldn’t really make a comparison in regards to our membership. Tony Cicero actually became a born-again Christian many years ago, which I count as more than a coincidence. He was meant to play on this record. Since the band consists of Drew and myself, we’ll use the players that are given to us and do the best we can. We don’t have to worry about where people stand in that regard. Let’s not be mistaken, we are firm in our foundations and have specific aims for the band but it’s not like “Don’t worry brother, I’m praying for your salvation!”. That’s like, SO pre-Enlightenment dude!

TR: I’m sort of curious as to what came first, your Christian faith or punk rock? Was there any sort of ‘guilt’ felt from being into both?

JD: My faith came first in history and remains first in principle. There might’ve been a slight rub in the beginning, but not on my part. I was made fun of a lot. Then I was asked questions. Then it kind of just became a non-issue. My parents never cared about my being into punk because, as stated before, they were music-lovers involved in the counter-culture of their time. I also didn’t really get into the whole dress-up thing so I didn’t scare people that way. I certainly see the validity in the question, but it’s kind of like asking a Christian listening to counter-culture music in the 1960’s. In hindsight, that movement seems pretty tame but in the reality of the times, as reported by the people who were there, it was a radical and tension-filled time. So I think it’s much the same with youth culture music today (only watered-down for the most part). In 50 years time I don’t think it will matter because the music will no longer be abrasive in the same way.

I know you’re not implying that one should feel guilty for being into both, but that’s the implication that many people put on this issue. I think it’s a product of social conditioning. Punk as a ‘genre’ doesn’t mean anything to me, therefore the ‘rules’ in it do not apply to me. I believe in punk and feel like I’m a part of the movement, whatever that may be. But I don’t really care if people think I’m ‘punk’ or not. What a silly worry!

TR: Let’s dig into the new LP, ‘Philistine’. There certain is a theme running through it, though I’m not bright enough to figure it out. Could you elaborate?

JD: I cannot comment on any of the lyrical themes as I have had nothing to do with the lyrics except penning one song (the first song on Side B, which is kind of a surreal palindrome-ish poem really). I can comment on the music, which I did write. Musically, the goals were pretty defined out of the gate — we wanted to make music that we imagined might have been made if/when people attempted fast, heavy music in the early ’60s. Look, we all know about the Stooges, Blue Cheer, et al. But there are hundreds, maybe thousands of bands (with ad infinitum ideas) that never made it to a recording studio. I refuse to believe that a ‘hardcore’ beat was first played in the late 1970s. There is nothing new under the sun. So the impetus for the LP came less from imitating a certain band, per se, and more with re-imaging a sound that we were certain existed, but couldn’t prove; and then adding our spin to that.

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I also handled all the art, so I can comment on that a little. I can’t give you much because I made it, so it’s weird to think about. We don’t really pay any mind to criticism we’ve received on all levels (of which there has been much) — but we do make it a point to represent ourselves in a way that makes people think. So there is something very self-conscious about our music and ‘art’ or what have you. I distinctly remember envisioning the front cover, and pitching it to Drew. It’s a visual reference of the story of Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan (the very river I was named after) by John the Baptist. This re-interpretation took place in my parents’ pool without their knowledge. If you are familiar with the gospel story, once Christ is baptized, a beautiful pure white dove (said to represent the Holy Spirit) descends from the Heavens over His head as Lord God YHWH proclaims, “This is My Son, with whom I’m pleased!” (translations vary). This is the first real appearance of what is now known as the Holy Trinity. I would leave it up to the viewer to read the entire story and note the similarities and differences with the story as they see it in our picture; nothing was left to coincidence & I don’t feel like it’d be right to spell it out any further. I found the bird on the street. I remember we were doing the shoot that day and I was calling all my friends and family, like “where can I find a dead bird on the street??? Help me out!”.

DW: The record ended up being a concept record accidentally, and I only realized it after it was completed. If you read, all the lyrics deal with unhealthy relationships between two people. Again, that kind of happened by accident. See, when I write lyrics, it only works to write about what is going on in my life at the time. At that time I was getting ideas for lyrics, I was in a relationship with a girl, and that was great, but I was having a tough time with other parts of my life, and I guess the two just kind of came together.

About the cover, I originally wanted the cover to just be a big picture of my face, which I think was actually Jordan’s idea but over time I think I soured him on that. I’d like to quote the post-modern philosopher JL Cruz and his theory on public spectacle. He says it’s important just to “Get the name out there”, and that’s what I wanted to do. Get my face to the people. Jordan was trying to think of other ideas and he came up with the idea of him baptizing me in his parent’s pool. One thing that is important with the band, aesthetically speaking, is that everything has to look good. I wanted a cover that was really stupid looking conceptually, but at the same time, something that was well composed and nice to look at. I mean, to me the idea of having me being baptized in a pool while a guy holds a dead bird is so ridiculous and over the top funny, but at the same time, when you look at the cover, it looks really cool, like with the dark blue water and all. I think Jordan actually has philosophical attachments to it, but to me, it was just the stupidest thing we could think of that still looked cool. By the way, I realized right now that I think everything the band has done in terms of record covers and layouts and packaging have all been Jordan’s ideas. I don’t think I’ve contributed anything artistically. I think the only thing was that at one point I said I wanted the record to look like a Nazareth record, and that’s where the poster insert came from. That’s it.

TR : Do you feel someone has the right to promote Satanism in their music the same way you bring your faith into your music?

JD: Absolutely. Who am I to censor art when it’s meaningfully constructed? That said, I think there are some parameters and I am sure I’ll be misquoted by many people who read this interview; my saying that doesn’t translate into “Everything Goes”. You bring up Satanism specifically, so I’ll address that first. Real Satanism is really closer to true Hedonism, the love of the Self and of Self Pleasure. You’re essentially putting yourself above all others, and will step over whoever you can or want to in order to live the life you please. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like it’s that bad, but it’s truly the antithesis of Christ’s teaching — so it’s natural for you to assume that it’s the absolute counter philosophy to Christianity. It is.

The reason I’m excavating here is to make the distinction of a belief like Satanism and a belief like racism or say, fascism. I’m sick of the underdeveloped argument of Christians being like Nazis…”We can’t let Christians into punk because– what’s next? Nazi music??” Give me a break. People who think that way are so boring and all I can suggest to them is they need to spend some time alone in honest reflection with real books (not websites “summarizing” real books) and fleshed-out thoughts. Be honest with yourself and seek real answers, not just ones quenching your worldview. I’ve spent a lot of my time studying God; it’s all I can think about most of the time and still I have so many questions and I have ached for the few answers I’ve gotten. So it’s a bit patronizing when people try to draw a line about what can and cannot be reflected upon in song.

This all culminates in the eventual question of what to do with prejudice messages in hardcore. Again, that line is extremely fine and wavy so I can’t really give an answer that I’d be fully satisfied with (but I’ll try). Unlike other styles of music, hardcore has traditionally been anthem-based. From the shirts to the record covers and most of all, the songs – it’s been about spreading a message, even if that message is obscured. I would never presume to define what is and isn’t acceptable in this kind of music, but it seems really restrictive. I think that’s why things like Revolution Summer took place…they were bored of the restrictions – they wanted to sing about love! I’m more in tune with that thinking, being that so long as you don’t espouse hate, then it’s pretty much free reign. I’ve personally never been involved in spreading bigotry through hardcore, I believe in love and respect. Usually the issue and feelings of hate that I have are for ideas and institutions, not for people (myself excluded). Therefore, I see an abiding balance between ‘punk’ and ‘Christianity’, whatever those things mean anymore.

TR: From my correspondence with you guys, it seems you are not the ‘collector’ types…

JD: Drew mentioned that you were talking about the band This Heat with him and saying some of our stuff reminded you of them. I love their records. Drew and I are music lovers, but you are right in assuming we are not the collector types. I’d say I’m quite knowledgeable on music, but I would probably fail an obscure music test if given one. On the other hand, I’d probably be able to recognize most all of the records in my collection based on a given song, and it seems a lot of people can’t do that. Drew is even more minimal than I am, he’s constantly giving away or selling his albums – He really knows what he likes and what to spend his time on; he could tell you all about his favorite records: who played on them, where, etc. Growing up, I think I’ve learned to hold onto the stuff that actually impacts me and float the rest along. It’s all too much if you take it on with a collector’s mindset; a lot of people can do that but I can’t.

We are Edison-rock: 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration. Any genre-bending has been a result of loosening my mind as a guitarist and challenging myself to stop thinking about hardcore as a genre but more as a mindset. It’s just like how Ian Mackaye considers The Evens a punk band. That throws a lot of people off but it makes complete sense. The cheesy cliche lives on – punk is an attitude! So I’ve taken my favorite bands and extended the ideas they had (or rather I tried and did very poorly, but you get me).

DW: I’m definitely no collector. I realized I really don’t know very much about music. I know about the music I like and the records I have, but beyond that I don’t know what’s going on. Like, I know a lot about doom metal and like Rush and stuff, and I know about some punk, but that’s about it. I have my whole life to listen to new music, so in the mean time I’ll just listen to the same stuff over and over until I stumble on something new. I like knowing a lot about the records I have. Like, the music I listen to, I really know it, you know? It’s too overwhelming now a days to look for music on the internet, because you can so easily become and expert on a certain band and immediately learn what bands influenced them and the members other bands and all that, and then you have tons of stuff when all you wanted to do was hear one record. It’s too much for me.

TR: Anything we should bring up that I forgot?

JD: I’d just like to say that the band is a challenge for a reason. It’s a polarizing band to test the vision of the people. You’re going to have to suspend your beliefs for a little bit when you take us on, and I count that as a positive characteristic in a band. Let me make this clear, I’m not making a direct comparison, but take a band like Bad Brains. There was a lot of suspending of beliefs for their fans, but boy what a payoff. I’d say we are a poorer, less interesting version of something like that. Again, I’m not comparing Dry-Rot to Bad Brains musically (simply because there is no comparison!), the loose idea is similar. We never claimed to be the saviors of mankind or the best hardcore band or whatever. Take the band for what it is and explore from there.

DW: I’m trying to train my cat to walk on a leash. Please send tips and pictures of other cats walking on leashes to blood_dumpster@hotmail.com.

by TONY RETTMAN on 3/9/2010 in Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , ,